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Hungary's opposition closer to uniting in key electoral districts ahead of elections

After a short period of confusion, and about an hour after this article appeared, Gergely Karácsony confirmed that MSZP-Párbeszéd is willing to withdraw candidates in four electoral districts, including those listed in this piece, in support of the local LMP or Együtt candidate. In exchange, however, LMP and Együtt are expected to withdraw their candidate in favour of MSZP-P or DK in every other electoral district deemed winnable for the opposition. The parties will reportedly negotiate all night, so as to reach a final deal by Wednesday.

Before that, opposition parties seemed to be struggling to unite in swing ridings, and key politicians are contradicting each other. According to reports published in Index on Tuesday early afternoon, the Hungarian Socialist Party – Párbeszéd alliance (MSZP-P) decided to withdraw its candidate in Central Budapest in favour of Antal Csárdi of the Politics Can Be Different party (LMP), even though a poll conducted just days ago showed that Márta Naszályi was the most popular of all opposition candidates. Conventional wisdom would have it that Central Budapest (the city's 1st electoral district) is a right-leaning swing district, particularly due to areas such as the Buda Castle, and as such, LMP is a more palatable choice than the Socialist Party to disenchanted Fidesz voters.
In exchange for this concession to LMP, Index reported that the small opposition party was gonna withdraw its candidate in Budapest's 17th electoral district (Csepel-Soroksár) in favour of MSZP's Ildikó Borbély (Mrs. Bangó). The democratic opposition currently holds this district, but is facing a challenge from one of the roughest and most prominent Fidesz politicians, Szilárd Németh–best known for his bullying and for rendering Parliament's National Security Committee dysfunctional through a protracted Fidesz boycott. Szabolcs Szabó of Együtt beat Fidesz here in 2014 and is still in the running. As such, the Socialists and Együtt must come to an agreement in this district to ensure it is not captured by Fidesz.
According to the Index report, MSZP has also decided to withdraw its candidate in Budapest's 6th electoral district (Gödöllő) in favour of Szilvia Lengyel of LMP, while the LMP candidate in the town of Szeged (Csongrád county's 1st electoral district) is withdrawing in favour of Sándor Szabó of MSZP. In exchange for some of MSZP's withdrawals, LMP is pulling its candidates in a number of additional electoral districts in favour of the Socialists–above and beyond those mentioned above.
Bernadett Szél of LMP confirmed that the report of these negotiations is basically correct, but Gergely Karácsony of MSZP-P not only denied that any agreement has been reached, but even that negotiations have been unfolding. It might have happened that MSZP is, indeed, negotiating with LMP and that Mr. Karácsony, who is not a Socialist is was aware of this. The opposition voters got mighty irritated. After this point came Karacsony with the aforementionned statement.
It's important to remember why Hungarian parties are forced to go through the misery of these negotiations at the riding level. Prior to adopting the new electoral system introduced by Fidesz, there were two rounds of voting. In the first round, each candidate would run at the electoral district level. If a single candidate won more than 50% of the votes in an electoral district, there would be no need for a second round. If no candidate won more than 50%, a second round would be held two weeks later among only those candidates who captured at least 15% of the vote. Usually, this left three candidates on the ballot.
Fidesz's new electoral system forces disparate parties to withdraw in favour of the presumed strongest opposition candidate before any ballots are cast, while the old system required coordination only after the dust had settled following the first round–at which point the local power dynamics had become a lot clearer. Fidesz won the elections in 1998 in the second round, removing Gyula Horn's Socialists from power, specifically because the Smallholders' Party withdrew 82 candidates in favour of Fidesz between the first and second round. The current system heavily favours a party like Fidesz-KDNP, which has no political allies, but disadvantages a diverse and fractured opposition. And this is the essence of what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán calls the "centrális erőtér" or the central field of force. As long as the opposition includes a relatively strong Jobbik and several left-centre or liberal parties (which find it difficult to cooperate with the former), Fidesz has the upper-hand in the first-past-the-post system that it devised for the 106 ridings.
Hungarianfreepress.com reports that Ádám Sanyó of a website that encourages tactical voting across the 106 ridings estimates that a turn-out of at least 70% and 500,000 tactical voters are needed to defeat Fidesz on 8 April. To put this into perspective, MSZP, then aligned with the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), scored a surprise victory against Fidesz in the 2002 elections when turn-out exceeded 70% in the first round and 73% in the second round. Though the power dynamics between the parties and the electoral system at the time bear absolutely no resemblance to what it is today, there is one common thread: in 2002, Fidesz ran a very aggressive and highly negative campaign, and by doing so it unwittingly mobilized opposition voters. In 2002, opinion polls failed to track this degree of mobilization among opposition voters. In 2018, Fidesz's overtly threatening campaign (including a comment by Mr. Orbán on Good Friday about a state security list containing the names and personal information of 2,000 Hungarians considered to be "Soros operatives" and thus monitored by authorities) is like nothing seen in Hungary since 1989.
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Balázs, representing a regime change group of conservative and liberal intellectuals called V18, now estimates that the opposition has a realistic chance of winning in 53 electoral districts: MSZP could win 20, Jobbik in 16, the Democratic Coalition in 9, LMP in 4, Együtt in 2 and two independent candidates stand a chance of winning as well. Voters must cast ballots strategically in these districts. This is a more optimistic estimate than what V18 first offered, at the start of the campaign.
The "magic number" needed to push Fidesz into minority territory is 45. This is how many ridings the opposition must win.
Source: facebook.com; index.hu; hungarianfreepress.com

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 April 2018 08:47

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